God and Time

What is time?

An introductory note of warning: some readers may find this blog a bit too theoretical and a waste of ‘time’.

We feel we know with some certainty what most things in our lives are. Things made of matter, of atoms and molecules, we can deal with comfortably, for they are solid and easy to experience with our senses. Even things like light and heat present no great confusion for us, once we understand the nature of electromagnetic radiation. We can even live with the duality in the nature of light, its being both a particle and a wave at the same time (a nice metaphor for the Divinity and Humanity of Christ perhaps?)

But when it comes to time, it is different. We do not really experience time with our senses in the normal sense. We experience the effects of time: things like movement and change. But what about time itself? What exactly is it?

Well if you’re now hoping I will go on to explain what time is, you will be disappointed. As far as I can ascertain, no one has ever been able to come even remotely close to explaining what time is. Oh sure, we fit time nicely into a whole lot of the laws and equations of physics, and we speak of time being the fourth dimension, together with the three dimensions of space forming the beautifully phrased “Time-Space Continuum”. We manipulate the idea of time to solve all sorts of practical problems and we use the time we read off our watches to organise our lives. But none of this even begins to tell us just what time actually is.

Normally, we understand things best by comparison with something already familiar to us. “A chihuahua is like a poodle,” I might explain to someone who has never seen one, “only a lot smaller, and usually with a lot more attitude.” But what can we compare time to? It seems to exist (does it exist?) in a category all its own.

The only thing we can compare it to sensibly is a dimension of space. Thus, we usually represent time using the classic representation of a spatial dimension: the number line. We think of time as being like a line that extends in one dimension, with forwards being the future, backwards being the past, and some point upon the line being the present, where we are now. Then we extend this analogy to have our point of the present slowly (???) moving along that line of time at a constant speed, never being able to stop, or go backwards, or speed up. This is a useful enough analogy for most of our practical needs, and it opens doors for the imagination of science fiction writers to explore by playing with our movement along this line. But is that really what time is?

Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, perhaps most famous for being extremely hard to understand, proposed the solution that we are wrong to try to define time in words. Perhaps, he says, or at least as well as I can understand him, the problem is our language. Perhaps there are some things in our world that simply cannot be properly defined using the human lnaguage which is all we know. Perhaps if we could think in some other way, some totally alien way that we cannot now imagine, the nature of time would be obvious, as obvious as the nature of matter. Of course, St Paul preceded him by some 1900 years when he told us about the things in Heaven that “no words can express”. So maybe time is one of those creations of God. Maybe it belongs to the category of creations incomprehensible to the limited mind of man.

And where does God fit in all this? What is the relationship of God to time? I had thought this must have been obvious to most Christians, until I did a bit of research and dicsovered what a marvellous variety of theories Christians have held on this topic! Here are a couple (that I don’t like, by the way):

1. God exists within time Himself, just as we do.

2. God exists outside of our time, but within His own time, a sort of “meta-time”.

I don’t like these explanations, because being your typical Eastern Christian, any explanation that limits God in any way is unacceptable to me. The best explanation I have found so far is that God created time and exists outside of time in some mode that we can never imagine, being prisoners of time ourselves. All time is ‘present’ before Him, or is known to Him. But you see, even in trying to relay that last concept, I had to use a word that implies He is in time, “present”, whereas, He isn’t.

Perhaps that’s enough boggling of the mind for now (another ‘time’ word).

No votes yet.
Please wait...
Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.

8 Replies to “God and Time”

  1. I remember reading about this in ‘The Confessions of St Augustine’.
    Augustine contemplates extensively on the issue of time.
    The book has been sitting on my shelf for a while now, so forgive me while I recall what I remember reading.
    According to Augustine, time does not really exist, there is only such a thing as a ‘point in time’.
    The past does not exist as it has ceased to be, the future is yet to come into existence.
    This leaves the present. However, the present can be broken down into a millisecond, or perhaps even smaller, and any point behind or ahead of this millisecond of ‘time’ is either past or future, and therefore does not exist.
    Therefore there is no such thing as a number line or a time line. Only one point in time exists, and that is what we call present, however small it is.

    God does not exist in time, nor does he exist in his own time. God exists in eternity, and eternity is outside of time. It neither has a beginning, nor does it have an end, and therefore it cannot be related to time at all.

    We know that there was at one point a ‘beginning of time’, and there will be at some other point in the future, an ‘end of time’. We understand this to mean the beginning and end of physical creation. We know that God existed before creation, and will continue to exist after creation is no more. Therefore God must exist outside of time, which has a beginning and will have an end, as God neither has a beginning, nor does he have an end.
    So God exists in his own eternity, into which we will be invited at the ‘end of time’.

    I guess I should revisit ‘The Confessions of St Augustine’

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  2. Father Antonios , the blog is great and a great source of wealth of knowledge and views of all Christians of all walks of life ….God bless you and thanks for your time and for the great topics and knowledge during the whole year… God bless you ,keep the good work father and i can assure you a lot of your sons , daughters , brothers and sisters read it every where and they enjoy it a lot and affects their practical lives to be better Christians …….regarding time , i feel it is the most evil aspect in our materialistic earthly life …i believe all humans fight it all the time as far as we are in our worldly body …… any how it is part of our God’s creation as he created day and night to organize his creatures on earth ….i was worried the other day in a discussion with some friends about time in heaven and how life would be boring because just i believe we will learn hymns and saying it all the time till i learned from your current topic that no time will be there in heaven ….this is great news abouna , so nobody will be bored and panicked over there …i believe Nathan put the topic in an easy and smooth way too , God bless …everyday we learn something ….praise the name of God by your work ,amen ….

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  3. ‘Time’ itself, being a created thing, is not evil! For God is not the creator of any evil thing.
    God is ‘ever-abiding in a perpetual present’, to paraphrase Augustine. Although being omnipotent or Pantocrator, and being omnipresent, He is also able to be present inside of time, and is aware of time and all that consists of it as a limited entity.

    Because of its very nature, time is measured by its passing, and therefore it is immeasurable, because as it passes it no longer exists. Therefore, ‘what we measure is the interval between a beginning and an end’.

    Augustine goes on to explain that time itself is not measured by day and night. He questions, ‘why shouldn’t time be rather the movement of all bodies? Suppose the lights of heaven should cease and a potter’s wheel, run on, would there be no time by which we might measure its revolutions?’.
    He recalls the story of Joshua and his defeat of the Amorites (Joshua 10), in which the sun stood still until Joshua was victorious in the battle. Therefore, time is not determined by the motions of the heavens, as even though the sun stood still for Joshua, time marched on.
    Therefore the measurement of time is completely subjective. It can be measured by the beating of a heart, or the sounding of a cricket.

    Augustine also agonises about the phrases ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ and ‘In the beginning was the Word’. He questions what this ‘beginning’ is, for if there was a ‘beginning’, what was God doing before He created the heavens and the earth. He explains that all things were made through the Word, and the Word is eternal. All things begin to be, and end to be, in God’s eternal reason and wisdom. God’s eternal reason is the Word, and ‘in His wisdom He made all things’. Therefore the ‘beginning’ is not referring to a period of ‘time’, but God’s eternal reason and wisdom, in which He created all things.

    In my own reasoning; we know that God is eternal, and has no beginning. Therefore the heavens, in which He abides, also must have no beginning as He has been, and is ever-abiding in this heaven.
    But heaven is a created thing, with a ‘beginning’; however, it is an ‘eternal beginning’.
    So again it follows that this ‘beginning’ is not a period of ‘time’, but God’s own eternal reason and wisdom.

    I guess whatever ‘time’ is or is not, we as limited human beings are placed in a limited world, which is governed by the passing of time. This passing of time creates the need to fulfil desires, because as time passes, we become in need and in want of the world around us.
    God exists not in time, but in eternity, a perpetual present.
    When we leave the world governed by time, we enter this perpetual present in which there is no time, so the need to fulfil our desires disappears and we are consumed with God, whose omnipresence consumes even the perpetual present in which we will abide.

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  4. Abouna, thank you for coming to COYA Conference 2008! I really love your reflections on Nature.

    Abouna, was wondering what you think “Time” is “like” (with the Time in this world as reference) to that in the New Jerusalem.

    If St. John existed at once some years after Christ on Earth, and a span of “time” in Heaven, even though he recorded all the events, and seen the events in what seems to be a linear fashion. I can not explain, then, how he saw the New Israel then as the Queen on the Moon.

    Also, if we are in a state of incorruption in Heaven, is it because the Everlasting, is an immutable “experience”- a time of perpetual worship. Does Scripture or Tradition have any illustration what “Time” would be like, as compared to what we experience today.

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  5. Sorry, third paragraph was poorly written.

    If St. John existed at once some years after Christ on Earth, and a span of “time” in Heaven, even though he recorded all the events, and seen the events in what seems to be a linear fashion, could we infer that “time” will be experienced in a very different manner.

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  6. can someone enlighten us as to where is our poor bishop gone? what has he done to deserve all this? Also could somebody help and stop the emails that are full of non christian language about our priests and bishop?

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  7. fr antonios is not going to respond to anything because he is too busy scaring off the bishop and taking over his place. he is busy writing emails to further damage the coptic church in sydney and its affiliated regions. he says hello to everyone. he will be back soon once his job is done…these are my thoughts & everyone else’s at church today

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.
  8. whocares..

    It is people like you who are damaging the church with comments like these. It neither helps nor carms the situation.
    You condemn these circulated emails for abusing the bishop, and yet you seem to also freely abuse and condemn one of your priests without a second thought. Aren’t you doing the same thing that you reckon was done by the email??

    I am not telling you not to express your opinion, but be a little tactful and do not mention names. Be a little polite and do not directly abuse anybody.
    You seem to not take into consideration that perhaps what was written and was said was legitimate and is of real concern.

    If you ‘and everyone else at church’ want your bishop back then you should probably refrain from this disrespectful abuse.
    I would personally not want the bishop to return if this is what he is going to return to!!!

    those are MY thoughts…NOT ‘veryone else’s at church today’…

    No votes yet.
    Please wait...
    Voting is currently disabled, data maintenance in progress.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*